Oh well. The past couple of posts on a ‘thought-experiment‘ in using enterprise-architecture methods to guide a fundamental rethink of economics both seem to have gone down like the proverbial lead-balloon. Fair enough. But I guess I’ll do one more try before going back to more conventional enterprise-architecture themes. (If anyone is interested in this, we can always come back to it later if need be.)
So: here’s the background.
No-one would doubt that, globally speaking, we all have a few problems at present. Global financial crash, some serious environmental overshoots, an evident reshuffle going on in the global power-positioning between various nation-states, and increasing social unrest even (or perhaps especially) in so-called ‘developed’ countries.
Yet those are almost trivial compared to what any competent futurist could see coming up on the horizon. Seriously.
So much of “Seriously.”, in fact, that there’s no possible way that we’d still be able to survive long-term – or even medium-term – with what we currently think of as ‘business-as-usual’. And I don’t just mean business-survival or suchlike – I mean survival. Period.
Hence we’re talking about an urgent need here for some truly fundamental changes. Not just minor tweaks of the deckchairs on the Titanic.
We still see lots of attempts at such ‘tweaking’, of course. The most popular seems to be about trying to tweak individual parts of the existing money-system – which by now everyone knows isn’t going to work. Perhaps the next most popular type of tweak is the search for ‘alternative currencies‘. Yet all of those ideas fail at the first hurdle, because the real source of the problem goes much deeper than that. Trying to build yet another structure on top of something that already doesn’t work is kinda futile, really…
The real problem is about possession. But it isn’t about who has the money, or who possesses the property: those kinds of problems are ‘fixable’ by ordinary political means. No: the real problem is the entire concept of possession itself. And that’s a lot deeper than just politics: that one really is fundamental.
And the problem is that possession doesn’t work. It never has. That’s the whole point. The notion that “possession makes the world go round” is a total delusion: most times, possession is what makes it go stop. Which, ultimately, is why it guarantees a world that doesn’t work. (Like now. Only worse.)
‘Possession’ is a screaming toddler’s refusal to share – a refusal to accept that the complexities and responsibilities that make a social world viable are always mutual, and must necessarily apply to everyone.
To be blunt, the myth of ‘possession’ arose when some foolish parent failed to pacify and placate a selfish, self-centred, screaming child. Kind of embarrassing to realise that so much of our vaunted ‘world-economy’ has its roots in the nursery, in the possessive temper-tantrum of a child lost in the ‘terrible twos’. Most children do grow out of it, eventually; but some don’t grow out of it at all – and that’s where the problems start…
Unfortunately, too many two-year-olds learnt that screaming and stealing and hitting people and holding onto things that they don’t need will seem to give them ‘control’ over others. The screamers do indeed ‘get results’, for themselves, for a while – but only by making it harder and harder for everyone else to sort out the resultant mess.
More unfortunately, it’s very addictive: it gives apparently-good results in the short-term, but at the cost of screwing things up in the longer-term.
Even more unfortunately, it’s also very infective: when stealing ‘wins’, who wants to be the ‘loser’? Which is why, some 5000 years or so after this mistake first became established – apparently starting within a small sub-clan somewhere in what later became called Mesopotamia – we now have an entire global structure that actively rewards even the most obsessive self-centredness, and actively punishes almost any form of responsibility. Which is why we now have a global economy and a global environment right on the brink of total collapse. Oops…
So, what do we about it?
Let’s start right from the beginning:
The core foundation of all economics and social structures is a ‘value-network’ of interlocking mutual responsibilities.
That part of ‘the economy’ does still work. And we know it works, because we can see it do so in many different contexts and at many different scales, from high-functioning households to the internals of high-functioning businesses, and in most of the now-few ‘traditional’ societies that have so far managed to withstand the ravages of ‘development’.
A possession-based economy is, in effect, a dysfunctional overlay on top of a responsibility-based economy. To be blunt, a selfish-child’s version of an economy, in which everything is deemed to be centred solely around themselves. (Technically, it’s a ‘subject-based’ model: all others are deemed to be subjects of self.)
The fundamental basis of a possession-economy is that it ignores or rejects outright many of the mutual-responsibilities that make an economy viable and sustainable over the longer-term. In effect, it ‘sweeps the mess under the carpet’, and attempts to conceal the mess via a myth of ‘infinite growth’. Yet those responsibilities don’t simply disappear because we ignore them: they’re still there, still gathering metaphoric interest (to use the monetary term). So when the myth of ‘infinite growth’ hits up against the real-world’s finite limits – which is what’s happening now – the whole thing is going to come apart at the seams. At that point, the only viable option is to reinstate what does actually work: a responsibility-based economics.
Which means that we’ll have to dismantle the entire superstructure of possession, and everything built on top of that as well; and then rebuild a new set of structures pretty much from scratch, starting from right down at the root-level, and then building upward again from there. Which is definitely a non-trivial challenge: but we really do not have any choice about that. (If we want to survive, that is…)
The catch is that the change-over has to be total: no exceptions at all. Possession is highly-addictive, and fatally-infective: if we allow any of it to remain, it will destroy the economy all over again – and we won’t be able to survive another mess like this one. There’s no getting round that fact: it really is all, or nothing. Literally.
Which where it gets kinda scary…
Possession has to go. Perhaps doesn’t sound so bad at first, because it might seem too abstract to matter. But we mean that this applies to all notions of possession, in every one of its real-world forms. No exceptions. No exceptions.
Which means barter has to go too, because barter assumes that we must already possess something, in an exclusive sense, in order to be able to exchange it for something else.
Which means that money, or currency in any form, also has to go, because in effect that’s just an overlay on top of barter.
Which means, among other things, that the entire monetary-system has to go; the entire banking-system and finance-system has to go; the entirety of microeconomics, the entire system of pricing and valuation, yes, that all has to go too. And the entire tax-system has to be re-thought from scratch, along with the entire social-benefits system, the fundamentals of the insurance-system, the fundamentals of most medical-care systems, the fundamentals of most forms of trade, and much, much, much more.
The entirety of the property-system needs to be restructured from scratch, refocussed around responsibilities: in a responsibility-based economy, we own something not because we claim to ‘possess’ it, but because we declare and demonstrate responsibility for it.
Yep: this isn’t something that we can fix up with a few minor tweaks here and there – which is all that most people seem to be aiming for at present. It’s big. Really big. Huge. And yet it’s probably the only chance that we have to get out of this mess.
And just to make it even more fun, we also have to remove all forms of possession in the social sphere. Of which the most important, most pervasive, and most pernicious, is the concept of ‘rights’. (Ouch… not going to be popular for saying that, am I? 🙁 )
Yet the blunt fact is that ‘rights’ aren’t real: they only exist because of the mutual responsibilities that create the conditions that we want when we talk of ‘rights’. And the other blunt fact is that most so-called ‘rights’ are actually little more than a sneaky method to evade key aspects of the mutuality of those responsibilities, and attempt to offload the responsibilities onto everyone else. Which is, technically, a form of abuse – and hence, in many cases, a fully state-sponsored form of structural abuse against those who are deemed not to have the respective ‘rights’. Which is why things often don’t work very well – especially whenever someone insists on bringing their purported ‘rights’ into the picture… Most so-called ‘human rights’ exist solely to compensate for someone else’s so-called ‘rights’: and the only viable way to sort out the resultant shambles is to get rid of the whole mess of ‘rights’, and focus on the responsibilities instead.
In short, the entire notion of ‘rights’ is a form of possession – or more often the ‘anti-possession’ of a claimed absence of responsibility. Which is why ‘rights’ have to go, too.
Yes, I’m serious: no rights. For anyone. Anywhere. Ever. Instead, we have to replace every single purported ‘right’ with social-structures that are based on the actual underlying mutual-responsibilities, to deliver the same overall results, and more. (That’s not hard to do, by the way: most businesses do it internally all of the time, in one way or another. Yet for many people, though, the ending of the delusion of ‘rights’ is definitely going to be the hardest part of this to face…)
So: no possession, no barter, no money, and no rights. Think that might mean a few changes to most our existing institutions, then…?
Which, in turn, is why most of those institutions aren’t likely to be much help here either:
- Would you trust a banker to supervise the end of the entire banking-system?
- Would you trust a lawyer to supervise the end of most current law?
- Would you trust an economist to rethink the entire economy?
- Would you trust a government to rethink the entire nature of government?
Hmm… probably not?
So who could do this work that so obviously and urgently needs to be done?
It’s going to need someone with a solid background in futures. Most futurists, though would, only deal with the abstract, the future – they don’t deal much with the nitty-gritty of ‘the now’.
It’s going to need someone with some solid experience in negotiation, in governance, and design for governance. A lot of people in the social-work space could do that – but they usually don’t have much experience of futures, or of dealing with anything that isn’t primarily about people.
It’s going to need to need a total re-think of business-processes, business-models and business in general, in just about every possible field of work. Most business analysts could do that, if it was all about money – which it isn’t. Which kind of rules them out for this work as well.
It’s going to need to cross an enormous scope – in a way, it’d be literally everything. Not a good role for single-domain specialists, then.
Which kinda bring us back to the skillsets of the enterprise-architect: futures-oriented, but practical; people-oriented, but with a solid grasp of the technical too; a lot of experience with re-thinking every aspect of business, outside of a purely money-oriented scope; and above all, consummate generalists.
So yeah, does kinda look like the ball’s in our court, doesn’t it?